In 1976, a book written by Alex Haley was published and it became a best seller. The book was 900 pages long and was entitled “Roots”. The following year a mini-series based on the book was aired on TV to a huge viewing audience. Did you read the book and see the films?
That was the beginning of a genealogy craze that swept our nation. Over 40 years have passed since that book was written but the quest to find one’s ancestors goes on. With the dawn of DNA testing and organizations such as Ancestry.com, millions of families and individuals are actively researching their family trees. This preoccupation with who we are and where we came from has obsessed humanity since the dawn of creation. The first-century Jews were no exception. They prided themselves in their ancestry and often used it as a reason for boasting or as an excuse to justify their sinful actions.
In the previous passage of Scripture, John 8:31-36, Jesus told the Jews that a true disciple of His was a person who believed in Him and obeyed His words, resulting in freedom. He stated that only He could give them true freedom. They responded by saying, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Then they challenged Jesus to prove His point. The Lord Jesus made it clear to them again, in verse 34, that He was talking about spiritual slavery to sin and, once again, offered them freedom from that slavery.
Jesus hasn’t finished His conversation with them yet. Let’s see what else He has to say and observe their responses.
I. A CONTRADICTION IS EXPRESSED (verses 37-38)
I continue to be amazed at the patience of Jesus toward those who are intentionally slow to learn, or who refuse to learn. He begins by admitting that they are the physical descendants of Abraham, but they bear no spiritual resemblance to Abraham. Verse 37 says, “I know that you are Abraham’s offspring; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” Abraham wouldn’t try to kill Him. On the contrary, Abraham welcomed the messengers that God sent to him in Genesis 18, showing them respect and hospitality. He also gave a tenth of his possessions to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God, after receiving a blessing from him (Genesis 14:18-21; Hebrews 7:1-3). The Jews standing before Jesus bear no spiritual resemblance to that description of Abraham. Instead of welcoming the One whom God has sent, they are trying to kill Him. Several attempts have already been made to arrest Him (John 7:30, 32, 44). Abraham was also called “a friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7). Friends don’t murder one another. That’s the work of enemies.
At the end of verse 37, Jesus states the underlying cause of their actions when He says, “My word has no place in you.” The Greek words might be more clearly translated as, “You have no room for My word” or “My word isn’t making any headway” in your minds and hearts. To put it into modern-day English, they were “tuning Him out”. They were unreceptive to Jesus and to His words to them.
Once again Jesus states His source of authority, in verse 38, when He says, “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father”. Now Jesus is claiming to be with the Father from all eternity. He was there with the Father when Abraham walked this earth. His knowledge of Abraham is firsthand. With that said, Jesus gives them some food for thought. He makes an incomplete statement, leaving them with the opportunity to think it over and fill in the blank. Here are His words: “therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” Notice what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say “fathers”. Jesus said “father”, They are all children of the same father. Who is their father? That’s the question Jesus wants them to answer for themselves by process of elimination. They’ve heard the answer to that question before. They heard it from John the Baptist. Let’s see if they remember it and apply it to themselves.
II. THEIR EXCUSE IS REPEATED (verse 39a)
What do you say when you don’t know what to say? One option is to say the same thing over again and hold your ground, right? Have you ever done that? You may have done so to give yourself some time to collect your thoughts and come up with a better answer. Jesus just took the wind out of their sails with His reply so “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father’.” They must have said it loudly and in anger in order to maintain their sense of control over the conversation. It’s been said that a person who has nothing to brag about but his ancestors is like a potato plant. The best part of him is underground (buried, like the potatoes). After the reminders they were given by Jesus, I’m convinced that His listeners knew what He was talking about, and what He was implying concerning their spiritual parentage. With some honest reflection on their part, the “mystery” father would no longer be a mystery to them.
III. JESUS REPEATS HIMSELF (verses 39b-41a)
Jesus responds to their short answer by saying, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.” Jesus made that statement earlier, in verses 37 and 38. Why is He repeating Himself? Is this a teaching technique? It may be much more than that. For example, the repeating of a person’s name is a Hebrew expression of intimacy. We find that occurring many times in the Scriptures. God said, “Abraham, Abraham” (Genesis 22:11), “Jacob, Jacob” (Genesis 46:2); “Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4). David cried out in agony saying, “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33). Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” as He wept over the city and those living in it. There are many other instances where names are repeated. I suggest that Jesus is repeating Himself here and elsewhere out of love for them. He’s been giving them opportunity after opportunity to repent of their sins and acknowledge Him as their Messiah, in spite of their continuing hostility and rejection. He yearns to draw close to them and keeps giving them reasons to respond to Him the way Abraham responded.
IV. A SARCASTIC REACTION (verse 41)
The Jews react by saying, “We were not born of fornication”. There are two possible meanings to that statement and both possibilities might be implied. First, they may have been saying, “Our parents were not idolaters, worshipping other gods. Secondly, they may have been saying, “we are pure in our lineage, but we’re not so sure about you.” This meaning would imply that they were calling Jesus an illegitimate son of Mary and Joseph, born outside of wedlock. It’s also possible that both of those meanings were intended by their statement. In any case, their words were intended to be derogatory and offensive.
I think these leaders are beginning to realize that calling Abraham their father wasn’t getting them anywhere. What do they do now? The words of the prophet Malachi must have come to their minds. Malachi asked the question, “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?” (Malachi 2:10). The Jews may have thought to themselves, “That’s a good idea! Let’s take our paternity case all the way to the top!” So they say to Jesus, “We have one Father, even God.” They thought that, by saying those words, they would get themselves off the hook, and avoid further embarrassment. However, they are not out of trouble yet! Further embarrassment is on the way!
V. WORDS OF CORRECTION (verse 42-45)
The Lord Jesus looks around at them and says, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on My own; but He sent Me.” Once again, the Jews are mistaken. The practice of their religious observances doesn’t make them children of the Father. If they truly loved the Father, they would love His Son whom He sent, and who was standing before them at that moment. The Lord Jesus has proven Himself to be the Son of God by His miracles and they have not been able to refute His claims. In verse 43, Jesus asks them a question and immediately gives them the answer. He says, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word.” I think Jesus asked His question in the form of a plea. When He looks around at each of them after making that plea, He sees the reason by the expressions on their faces and makes it known to them saying, “you cannot hear My word”. He’s not implying that they are deaf, hard of hearing or stupid. On the contrary, they have chosen to ignore His words, refusing to listen to Him or to seek to understand what He is saying.
The Jews still haven’t asked the question that Jesus prodded them to ask in verse 38 – “Who is our father?” Since they didn’t ask, Jesus gives them a detailed answer in verse 44, where He says, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” That rebuke by Jesus should have reminded them of the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7, where he said, “You brood of vipers”, implying that they possessed character qualities similar to the devil. The words of Jesus in verse 44 are the clearest statement that Jesus makes about the existence and the personality of Satan. His listeners don’t resemble Abraham, and they don’t resemble God, but they do resemble the devil like a child resembles his father. Satan lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden, convincing her to disobey God and entice Adam to do the same. He tempted Cain to murder his brother Abel. Those standing before Jesus have chosen to believe Satan’s lies about Him and are intent on murdering Him. The truth can be embarrassing, especially when it is said publicly in the Temple for all to hear!
VI. A CHALLENGE TO THEM (verses 46-47)
After giving that stinging rebuke to His critics, Jesus establishes His authority by giving them a challenge. In verse 46, Jesus says, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe Me?” His enemies are given an opportunity to find errors in what He just said but He doesn’t get an answer from any of them. None of His enemies could prove Him wrong. Everything Jesus said to them was absolutely true. That question must have really frustrated and angered them.
Jesus concludes in verse 47 by reviewing their spiritual parentage and summarizing it. He says, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” The way they act is going to determine their destiny.
Here are several principles I’ve gained from my study of John 8:37-47:
- Spiritually, all people are children of one of two fathers: either God or the Devil. Which one is yours? If in doubt, your spiritual father is the one you obey.
- There are only two groups of people on earth: the children of wrath and the children of God. If your actions indicate that you are a child of wrath, please reconsider before it’s too late.
- There may come a time when you may need to be brutally honest with someone. Let’s follow Jesus’ example and make that it’s our last resort.
The following illustration is an appropriate conclusion to this passage of Scripture. A preacher had delivered a powerful sermon about the Devil, warning his listeners about his wiles. Two rude, young ruffians heckled the preacher, shouting, “Don’t you know, Mr. Preacher, that the Devil died last night?” The old preacher came down and, putting his arms on their shoulders said, “You poor fatherless orphans! What will become of you?” And then he said, “Let me introduce you to my Father who has promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ”
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED